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Daniel Deronda

George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876

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Daniel Deronda - George Eliot's Zionist Novel - 1876

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Deronda colored and said, "My reasons would be independent of any such fact."

"I know better. I have seen what men are," said the Princess, peremptorily. "Tell me the truth. She is a Jewess who will not accept any one but a Jew. There are a few such," she added, with a touch of scorn.

Deronda had that objection to answer which we all have known in speaking to those who are too certain of their own fixed interpretations to be enlightened by anything we may say. But besides this, the point immediately in question was one on which he felt a repugnance either to deny or affirm. He remained silent, and she presently said--

"You love her as your father loved me, and she draws you after her as I drew him."

Those words touched Deronda's filial imagination, and some tenderness in his glance was taken by his mother as an assent. She went on with rising passion: "But I was leading him the other way. And now your grandfather is getting his revenge."

"Mother," said Deronda, remonstrantly, "don't let us think of it in that way. I will admit that there may come some benefit from the education you chose for me. I prefer cherishing the benefit with gratitude, to dwelling with resentment on the injury. I think it would have been right that I should have been brought up with the consciousness that I was a Jew, but it must always have been a good to me to have as wide an instruction and sympathy as possible. And now, you have restored me my inheritance--events have brought a fuller restitution than you could have made--you have been saved from robbing my people of my service and me of my duty: can you not bring your whole soul to consent to this?"

Deronda paused in his pleading: his mother looked at him listeningly, as if the cadence of his voice were taking her ear, yet she shook her head slowly. He began again, even more urgently.

"You have told me that you sought what you held the best for me: open your heart to relenting and love toward my grandfather, who sought what he held the best for you."

"Not for me, no," she said, shaking her head with more absolute denial, and folding her arms tightly. "I tell you, he never thought of his daughter except as an instrument. Because I had wants outside his purpose, I was to be put in a frame and tortured. If that is the right law for the world, I will not say that I love it. If my acts were wrong--if it is God who is exacting from me that I should deliver up what I withheld--who is punishing me because I deceived my father and did not warn him that I should contradict his trust--well, I have told everything. I have done what I could. And your soul consents. That is enough. I have after all been the instrument my father wanted.--'I desire a grandson who shall have a true Jewish heart. Every Jew should rear his family as if he hoped that a Deliverer might spring from it.'"

In uttering these last sentences the Princess narrowed her eyes, waved her head up and down, and spoke slowly with a new kind of chest-voice, as if she were quoting unwillingly.

"Were those my grandfather's words?" said Deronda.

"Yes, yes; and you will find them written. I wanted to thwart him," said the Princess, with a sudden outburst of the passion she had shown in the former interview. Then she added more slowly, "You would have me love what I have hated from the time I was so high"--here she held her left hand a yard from the floor.--"That can never be. But what does it matter? His yoke has been on me, whether I loved it or not. You are the grandson he wanted. You speak as men do--as if you felt yourself wise. What does it all mean?"

Her tone was abrupt and scornful. Deronda, in his pained feeling, and under the solemn urgency of the moment, had to keep a clutching remembrance of their relationship, lest his words should become cruel. He began in a deep entreating tone:

"Mother, don't say that I feel myself wise. We are set in the midst of difficulties. I see no other way to get any clearness than by being truthful--not by keeping back facts which may--which should carry obligation within them--which should make the only guidance toward duty. No wonder if such facts come to reveal themselves in spite of concealments. The effects prepared by generations are likely to triumph over a contrivance which would bend them all to the satisfaction of self. Your will was strong, but my grandfather's trust which you accepted and did not fulfill--what you call his yoke--is the expression of something stronger, with deeper, farther-spreading roots, knit into the foundations of sacredness for all men. You renounced me--you still banish me--as a son"--there was an involuntary movement of indignation in Deronda's voice --"But that stronger Something has determined that I shall be all the more the grandson whom also you willed to annihilate."

His mother was watching him fixedly, and again her face gathered admiration. After a moment's silence she said, in a low, persuasive tone--

"Sit down again," and he obeyed, placing himself beside her. She laid her hand on his shoulder and went on--

"You rebuke me. Well--I am the loser. And you are angry because I banish you. What could you do for me but weary your own patience? Your mother is a shattered woman. My sense of life is little more than a sense of what was--except when the pain is present. You reproach me that I parted with you. I had joy enough without you then. Now you are come back to me, and I cannot make you a joy. Have you the cursing spirit of the Jew in you? Are you not able to forgive me? Shall you be glad to think that I am punished because I was not a Jewish mother to you?"

"How can you ask me that?" said Deronda, remonstrantly. "Have I not besought you that I might now at least be a son to you? My grief is that you have declared me helpless to comfort you. I would give up much that is dear for the sake of soothing your anguish."

"You shall give up nothing," said his mother, with the hurry of agitation. "You shall be happy. You shall let me think of you as happy. I shall have done you no harm. You have no reason to curse me. You shall feel for me as they feel for the dead whom they say prayers for--you shall long that I may be freed from all suffering--from all punishment. And I shall see you instead of always seeing your grandfather. Will any harm come to me because I broke his trust in the daylight after he was gone into darkness? I cannot tell:--if you think Kaddish will help me--say it, say it. You will come between me and the dead. When I am in your mind, you will look as you do now--always as if you were a tender son--always--as if I had been a tender mother."

She seemed resolved that her agitation should not conquer her, but he felt her hand trembling on his shoulder. Deep, deep compassion hemmed in all words. With a face of beseeching he put his arm around her and pressed her head tenderly under his. They sat so for some moments. Then she lifted her head again and rose from her seat with a great sigh, as if in that breath she were dismissing a weight of thoughts. Deronda, standing in front of her, felt that the parting was near. But one of her swift alternations had come upon his mother.

"Is she beautiful?" she said, abruptly.

"Who?" said Deronda, changing color.

"The woman you love."

It was not a moment for deliberate explanation. He was obliged to say, "Yes."

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